Tensions grip continent over voting, poll postponements
by GIFT NDOLWANE
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE African Union’s Continental Early Warning System has been working overtime in the past few weeks, a scenario that is not likely to change anytime soon, as a number of countries in the continent head into a series of high-risk elections.
Burkina Faso, the troubled West African country, despite postponing its polls, set the tone for a potentially explosive end to the year following a coup d’état in mid-September.
In the Central African Republic (CAR), mounting violence and the resignation of the head of the country’s electoral commission has led to the deferment of polls scheduled for the weekend.
Elections have gone ahead in Guinea but in the middle of upheavals. An outcome is tensely awaited.
Voting is also scheduled to go ahead next week in Ivory Coast, the country on a recovery path following a civil war, and Tanzania, seen as one of the continent’s most stable countries that has in recent weeks nonetheless seen divisions within the ruling party.
Presidential elections are also being held in Benin and Niger in February 2016.
Security experts are understandably concerned at the prevailing atmosphere ahead of the polls and the deferment of other elections.
Such a scenario is motive for the AU to worry as the world continues to count the costs of a recent Burundi poll after Pierre Nkurunzinza, who controversially secured a third term, won.
His subsequent election led to violent unrest and increasing economic difficulties, causing thousands of Burundians to flee to neighbouring countries, some already having crises of their own such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
“Recent events in Burkina Faso, following a coup d’état on 16 September 2015, are a grim reminder of what can happen when the run-up to crucial presidential elections goes awry,” said the South African based Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
Last month an apparent military coup d’état carried out by the Regiment of Presidential Security toppled the provisional government in Burkina Faso.
However, following international pressure the military junta agreed to step down, and Michel Kafando was reinstated as Acting President.
Polls initially scheduled for this past weekend (October 11) have been postponed to November 29.
Elections have also been deferred in the restive Central African Republic in the wake of deadly violence largely due to clashes between rival Christian and Muslim militias.
The country has struggled to recover from sectarian violence triggered by a 2013 coup.
The violence has driven more than 412 000 people from their homes.
Upheavals of recent weeks, which recently left some 40 people dead, have put paid to such a recovery, let alone holding a poll.
Last week, a convoy of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic was during which a peacekeeper and another was injured.
A transitional government headed by President Catherine Samba-Panza will lead the country until polls are held at a date yet to be announced but said to be before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, ahead of next week’s elections, some longstanding issues threaten to derail the stability of Ivory Coast over the long term.
Among these include the reform of the security forces, national reconciliation after a deadly civil war, prosecution of culprits responsible for past political violence and land ownership.
“All these need to be resolved to ensure that the country does not fall back to the violent political contestation of the past few years. There is always the possibility that any one of these issues can be exploited for political purposes,” said analyst Théroux-Bénoni.
Incumbent, Alassane Ouattara, is favoured to win.
Of all the elections taking place in Africa this month, the presidential election in Tanzania next week is the least likely to be derailed.
The country’s strong tradition of peaceful elections and the confidence in the country’s electoral systems are largely attributed to the positive projections of a peaceful poll.
Nonetheless, the decades-long rule of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) has culminated in a much tenser electoral race than analysts initially foresaw.
CCM’s John Magufuli and former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, who recently broke away from the CCM in July after losing his bid to lead the party to elections, are the frontrunners.
Serious challenges also plague Tanzania in the run-up to the poll.
The reform of the constitution and the hotly disputed status of Zanzibar are some of the issues that have not been resolved.
Plans for a new constitution have been in the pipeline for decades and it was expected that a referendum on the constitution would take place before this election.
This has now once again been postponed.
While post-election violence on the mainland is not foreseen, experts warn that the radicalisation of certain elements on the island of Zanzibar, with its proximity to Mombasa and Somalia, can create problems, as has been the case in previous elections.
Meanwhile, the holding of the presidential election at the weekend (October 11) in Guinea marked the second multi-party democratic election in the history of Guinea.
The country defied a number of pre-electoral challenges to hold a largely peaceful election whose conduct the AU said had contributed to the consolidation of democracy in the West African country.
The continental bloc’s election observer mission highlighted that voting was generally done in a peaceful and transparent manner despite the findings highlighting some “dysfunctions” in the organisation of the election.
“The Mission congratulates the people of Guinea for the level of responsibility and maturity shown through participating in the elections peacefully.
“The AUEOM (African Union Election Observer Mission) invites Guineans to retain the values of good citizenship and responsibility to sustain the calm that has prevailed since the election,” read a circular after the polls.
Violent clashes, which left two people dead on the eve of the poll, between supporters of the incumbent and favorite, Alpha Conde, and main opposition leader, Cellour Dalein Diallo, marred the poll.
Official results were scheduled for the weekend but early results announced by radio stations so far showed Conde with a sizeable lead, though a second round, or a dispute, is possible.
“Observe the results of polls and allow due process to follow in the case of any electoral disputes,” AU recommended to the political parties.
– CAJ News
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